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Group of elementary school kids go back to school wearing masks.

Preparing and Planning for a Return to School

Author: Michele Tryon, CCLS
Published Date: Monday, August 16, 2021

The summer months are quickly fading and it is time to prepare and plan for a transition back to school. Generally, that would be a pretty straightforward process. We’d likely start to shift the schedule to earlier bedtimes, make a list of school supplies, see what clothing or shoes need to be purchased, make sure vaccinations are up to date, and recognize our child may be feeling both excited and nervous about going to a new grade or school.

This year is completely different. For many, the intensity of the emotions is higher. Many children and adults continue to be concerned about the impact of the pandemic and are anxious about what the future may hold. Feelings can range from cautiously optimistic to overly anxious when it comes to heading back to the classroom and school-related activities. To ease the transition and get the school year off to a good start, prepare and plan with the five C’s below:

Communication

  • Give your child age-appropriate information. Learn what you can about expectations your school district has in place and share them with your child in positive terms. For example, say, “Students will be expected to wear a mask at school, to make sure everyone stays safe. Do we need to buy some new masks, or do you have enough?”
  • Limit your child’s exposure to sources of misinformation. Conversations about politics and vaccine misinformation can be confusing and may cause further anxiety for young children.

Comfort

  • Listen to your child’s wonders and worries. Let them know that it is normal to be excited, anxious, curious, cautious, or whatever feeling they are experiencing. Giving them permission to explore their feelings is key to resolving them and helps to strengthen coping muscles.
  • Listen to the unspoken messages. Sometimes children and teens cannot find the words to express how they are feeling. Pay attention to their actions, moods, and body language. Consider what your child may be trying to tell you and then approach the situation with the intention of helping.

Compassion

  • Have realistic expectations. The past school year was challenging for everyone. It is important to have compassion for a child who may be lagging academically or socially. Children will eventually regain skills or catch-up academically if we are patient and encouraging. Some skills and lessons will need to be learned all over again.

Challenge

  • Promote planning and problem solving. Provide a listening ear and ask questions that prompt thinking in terms of planning and problem solving. Imagine what a typical day might look like, and practice needed skills.
    • Younger child example: “You’ll need to open your lunch box and take out your food. You might have to eat quickly. Would you like to practice during lunch today? What should we put in your lunch the first day?”
    • Teen example: “What are you looking forward to? What do you think will be stressful? What ideas do you have for when you feel stressed?

Choice

  • Help kids discern what is and isn’t a priority. Help them organize their thinking around what does and doesn’t need to be done at any given time and how to break big projects or goals into smaller steps.
  • Offer choices when possible. Often you can create a sense of choice within a given responsibility. “Do you want to walk to school with your friend, or do you want a ride?” “Do you want to do your homework in the dining room or at the kitchen counter?” “Do you want to pack a lunch or buy lunch at school?” “Do you want to wear the green mask or the blue one?”

As the days get shorter and the inevitable return to school gets closer, taking the time to process, plan, and prepare will be a benefit to both you and your children.



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About Michele Tryon, CCLS

About Michele  Tryon, CCLS Michele Tryon, CHKD community outreach coordinator and parent educator has worked with children and families for 30 years, providing services in the hospital, home, school and community setting. Michele is a Certified Child Life Specialist, a Certified Positive Discipline™ parent educator, a nationally recognized trainer/consultant for Nurturing Parenting Programs™ and co-author of The Nurturing Program for Parents and Their Children with Special Needs and Health Challenges©.